Atheist Practices Lent

Christians use Lent, the 40 days prior to Easter, as a time of self-reflection, self-denial, penitence and prayer. Muslims use Ramadan for a month-long time of self-restraint and day-time fasting.  Jews use Yom Kippur as a day of fasting where one is to reflect on one’s life.  Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”.   In Buddhism, such moment by moment intentionality is an attempted daily practice.

Intentionality is difficult, however.  We are largely habitual creatures, living to our dying days riding the juggernaut of our own indomitable habits.  But many cultures have realized a trick to sidetrack the juggernaut — abstaining.  They realized that to gain insight into life and influence the locomotive of our habits, we only have to intentionally stop a particular habit or two.  That mere effort of will helps reveal how driven we are and gives us precious moments to reflect and perchance steer a bit more to the left or the right, if not outright change our life’s direction.

My Christian blogging buddy, Luke at “Toothface”, is giving up soda for Lent.  I am not a Christian, but to capitalize on the benefits of denial,  and as a gesture to Christian friends like Luke,  and to acknowledge that religions do capture valuable truths, for Lent I am giving up “Stats”.  For 40 days I will not check my blog’s “Stats” page to see how many and who are viewing my blog.  As many bloggers know, the Stat-checking habit can become very addictive.

When we abstain from something with the intent of self-reflection it is surprising how many times during a day one feels the pull of the locomotive of habit.  There will probably be many opportunities to stop ourselves and reflect when giving up something even as simple as soda or stats.  Being an atheist, though, there will be no notion of self-punishment or repentance in my practice but instead, I am practicing so as to taste life more fully and more intentionally.  I think Luke’s intentions are similar.

Questions for Readers:

  • For atheists: Do you consider this a sell-out to use religious terms and holidays?   Do you feel it re-enforces all the things in religion that you dislike?  For those who used to be religious, do you ever feel like you threw the baby out with the wash?
  • For theists:  What do you feel about an Atheist using your tradition’s holiday?  How do you wrestle with non-believers grasping deeper truths that you too hold albeit wrapped in your tradition?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

37 responses to “Atheist Practices Lent

  1. Theist here.

    Frankly, I think the Godless mimicking our traditions is sort of humorous, especially when they start talking about “deeper truths” in an obvious attempt to deride religion and encourage their own feelings of self worth.

    But hey, if they draw some comfort from aping our behavior – in form if not function – who am I to be bothered by it.

  2. I’ve always felt if something was good or useful it’s origins did not matter. Faith traditions borrow from each other despite having extreme differences of belief, why not people of no faith too? Countless people practice Yoga without being Hindus, Buddhists, or Jainists.

    I laugh every Christmas season when Christians break out all their pagan decorations, and then imagine a war on Christmas that somehow is attacking their faith. 😉

  3. Well-done. I’ve occasionally considered trying out a fasting / abstinence exercise, either at the same time as a related religious observance or separately, to explore the benefits or drawbacks it might have outside of the religious context.

    So I certainly don’t think you’re a sell-out, or compromising your atheism. If these practices of personal abstinence have real psychological or physical advantages independent of religious belief, then they are worth exploring. It would be petty to avoid them just to spite religion.

  4. 1minionsopinion

    Even when I was in Catholic school I did nothing special at Lent. How can giving up soda for a month and a bit compare to whatever real suffering goes on anywhere in the world every day anyway? I didn’t think in those terms then, mind you. I just didn’t see a point to it.

    There was a fad for a while when I was in (secular) high school to run 30 hour famines to raise money for famine relief charities. I think that’s a better idea than just giving up one thing because a religious tradition says to do it.

    For the question: I think atheists have to use religious holidays but at least most of them have been secularized to a point where the original religious purpose of them can barely be found under all the chocolate and wrapping paper. And we can continue to keep them secular by reminding people of their pagan roots and general history.

  5. Atheist here. I think if you find value in it then it’s worth doing. Religions are an effort of human beings to find transcendence. Why not use the parts that appeal to you to help you experience things from a different perspective?

    Personally, I’m not a very spiritual person and never was, even when I was religious. So no, I don’t feel like I threw anything out except the guilt and superstition.

  6. geoih

    I love Lent. Paczki and McDonalds’ double fish.

    Christians don’t seem to have any problems with the whole world co-opting Christmas or Easter. Why should Lent be any different

  7. Sabio, I love this post! I inhaled sharply when you said you were going to give up checking your stats! I know I couldn’t do that.

    While I am an atheist, and don’t expect that to change, I still consider myself a seeker, and am calling my current place in my journey “Reclaiming the Stuff that Worked.” I did throw it all out when I left organized religion. I think I needed a time to let myself be angry for all the ways that religion messed me up, but I want to move passed that now.

    Religion has stumbled onto some valuable things, like cultivating an attitude of gratitude, or taking one day a week completely off from your work, or–as mentioned here–letting go of a habit, even if only temporarily, to allow for reflection and a change of focus. That’s a practice I can get on board with.

  8. Wow! As always, i’m impressed. i love the line ” I am practicing so as to taste life more fully and more intentionally.” and agree totally. many atheists claim Christians or just believers in general are joyless guilt-ridden people who do things because “they’ve always been done that way” without realizing important things like other religions share these notions or that Christmas is completely pagan. many times, these atheist critiques are correct.

    i love the fact that you’re doing this too. i think we all should have some practice or time of reflection and intentionality. i’m happy that you’re joining me! a companion for the journey is a thing to be celebrated. but also, and i think i need to say this for the benefit of other atheists on this site and also so that you hear it too Sabio (although you may already know): There is no expectation that you’ll stay on this path. no need to become “like me” or “re-discover faith.” your path is your path and the world is better for it that you are intentionally looking at it.

  9. Boz

    A few times I tried to stop drinking alcohol for an extended period of time, but i gave up because I found the benefit of abstaining to be less than the enjoyment of drinking.

  10. CRL

    Would this be the classic “Oh crap! Ash Wednesday was yesterday, what the hell should I give up?”

  11. I was thinking of several types of habits to abstain from:

    (a) ones you always wanted to give up because you don’t think they are good for you

    (b) ones you feel are OK for you but that they have more control over you than you desire

    (c) ones which you are good for you and have no control over you

    It would seem to me that abstaining from each of these would different sorts of benefits.

  12. Shawn Wamsley


    You know my wrap

    I’m certainly not offended, though I wonder what benefit you’ll draw from it. I’m excited to hear how it goes.

    So, is your fasting during the Lenten season like my personal habits of deconstructing my faith? It seems that we have something in common in that you like to toy with Christian things (you know try them on for size and parade around in front of an imaginary mirror), and I like to toy with atheist/agnostic things. Interesting.

  13. SueC

    Christian here – and I have no problem with others adopting our practices!
    First of all, it reminds us about them – makes us take a second look at them.
    Secondly, fasting (which includes abstaining from habits or other choices) isn’t an exclusively religious practice.
    Finally, one way to a mature Christian faith is by trying out Christian behaviour. I don’t mean that you will inevitably choose to believe in God: but sometimes it happens that way.
    I wish you faithfulness (to your commitment!) and insight on your journey.
    PS: the 40 days don’t include Sundays.

  14. @ several of you,

    When I lived in Pakistan, I honored some Muslim customs, in Japan, some Shinto and Buddhist fesitvals, in India, some Hindu holidays. Heck, we enjoy Christmas.

    But I am not doing my no Stats abstinence in any Christian normal way — I am not thinking about Jesus at all (already did that long time ago), I am not thinking about a god suffering for me. I am using the excuse to practice self-insight. And I am timing it symbolically to honor my Christian friends (not to honor Christianity) and to emphasize that religion can harbor deep truths in spite of what I consider its many superstitions and twists of logic.


    @Shawn :
    Any benefit I get will not even approach normal Christian theological benefit but shared benefit that all people can share. I am in no way trying Christian things on for size. I already did that. I am doing a normal practice during Lent. I am not toying with Christianity. I am simply giving friends like you a Hat Tip.

    @SueC :
    Thanx for stopping in. My practice is not a “journey” but the path is the way. And I will be practicing on Sundays. I am not looking for loop-holes, I am not trying to get away with what I can while tryng to pretend any holiness. I am doing this to simply practice a little more awareness in the day. Simple and plain — not holy and not all that interesting.

    @ Luke :

    Yeah, you summed it well. In your Christian world (rare out there I must lament), I am fine on my path and not in risk of damnation. My practice can compliment my path and still be good without a god in the story. I thank you for the acknowledgement.

  15. Shawn Wamsley


    I appreciate the hat tip, but I certainly did not intend to convey any notion that you were “trying Christianity out to see if you like it.” I meant that you are “toying” with it. You don’t see it at as anything more than novel, trivial, and perhaps coincidental. No?

    Just like I don’t see my forays into questioning faith (though our shared experiences of doubting etc. are at times novel, trivial and perhaps coincidental) as anything more than “toying” with the way other people see the world. Ultimately, there is no chance of me adopting it as a world view.

    I think I gain the ubiquitous insight gained into personal introspection from such behavior. if I understand you correctly, it is the same as you do.

  16. @ Shawn

    Well, I not really doing anything with Christianity — I am not toying with it, And I don’t see it as novel, trivial or coincidental.

    Instead, I think that the deep things of the heart/spirit/mind can be approached from many traditions. I see the normal commercial mentality as poverty-stricken when it comes to the reflective life — be those atheists or religious folks. Yet I think religions have safe-guarding zones for wonderful techniques for working on self. It is in honor of these shared traditions that I partake in this.

    I have done many Lenten activities over my decades and other such activities in other traditions. I feel that truth is much deeper than religions. I see you as having a real opportunity in your faith to practice valuable inner and outer work of ultimate value. Most of those in your tradition (unlike Luke, above) don’t see me in a similar position — to them, I am always lacking.

    So I am yet again enjoying a Lenten activity with no focus on Christianity itself but on my Christian friends — especially those pluralistic/universalistic friends who feel that even an atheist can have an unready redeemed and lasting valuable relationship to what they consider their ultimate reality, which is how I view them.

    Is that clear? (hey, thanx for stoppin’ in)

  17. Shawn Wamsley


    It is much clearer now, thanks!

    “I feel that truth is much deeper than religions. I see you as having a real opportunity in your faith to practice valuable inner and outer work of ultimate value.”

    This, by the way, is an important point of reflection all by itself, and I appreciate you making it – I couldn’t agree more (and it’s probably why you and I can have dialogue, because at the heart of things I think you and I have very similar dispositions regarding the nature of truth).

    Also, I wouldn’t call myself pluralistic or universalistic, but there would be a serious void in my life if my atheist friends/family did not exist. I need you guys.

  18. Tim Smith

    Without looking through the Bible for exact words or verses etc, my thoughts went as unguided by any intermediate checkpoint to the notion of the sun shining (and the rain falling) on the just and unjust, It does not have to be literal rain or sunshine. Events share a commonality since we often coexist on the same playing field, in the same office etc. Call it the law of universal impingement. Are not our needs similar? Do we not all thirst, feel rejection, share the need to be accommodated into and by our culture? Redirection of focus to better things is a universally good idea equally accessible across cultures like the sunshine and rain. It could be that this seems to be a case of “having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof” to one who is a Theist, but forms of godliness cannot be instantiated without action. The action itself seems to be considered good in it’s own
    right. Somewhere in James it says that all good things come from the Father of lights in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning. Are good things from God whether we recognize them or not? Perhaps. Yet, not withstanding, it is good in it’s own right to practice restraint, denial, fasting etc. Why should a christian deny a non-christian the opportunity for either self-fulfillment, the betterment of his or her world, or any other expression or drive towards “all good things.” I am sure that Haitians
    are accepting christian and non-christian dollars. Christians feel compelled by the love of Christ to give; this is a good thing. An atheist feels compelled by, dare I say a spirit of love, to give; that giving qua giving is equipotentially as good as the christian gift. Many other similar concepts expressed at other places in the Bible.”

  19. For those who used to be religious, do you ever feel like you threw the baby out with the wash?

    No, never.

    I have always been a self-examining person. That led me to faith and eventually out of it.

    I left religion but I continue to be self-examining.

    I do not think that that character trait has anything to do with faith-based belief systems. Actually, in my experience, most religious individuals ARE NOT self-examining. They’re dogmatic, which is different. A person can, and often does, go through lent without once thinking about the error of his or her ways.

    When people de-convert, by and large, they continue to be who they were. If they were deep thinkers they become deep thinking atheists. If they were the “blame everything on others” type, that’s who they are as atheists.

  20. @ Lorena
    I agree. Most cases I have seen a person goes in to a religion and left as they are. But I have seen a few softened by religion with the virtuous tools therein, but it is not common. And some atheists soften on coming out. The question for me is what skills do we value and do we know how to seek them out and nurture them. “Culture” is valuable and fragile. If we are not intentional about our culture, it will be determined for us by those with cheap attractors.
    I agree with you in large part, but I wonder if we can find the good in many traditions and preserve them.

  21. but I wonder if we can find the good in many traditions and preserve them.

    I think it is more healthy to create our own traditions. Following other people’s traditions is difficult for freethinkers and for people who have been screwed up by the herd mentality of religion.

  22. That was “herd” mentality.
    [fixed it for you]

  23. @ Lorena:
    Hmmmm, lots of approaches/strategies I can think of besides what you call “following“:

    • “sharing”
    • “borrowing”
    • “re-claiming”
    • “confiscating”
    • “hijacking”
    • “re-defining”
    • “exploring”
    • “broadening”

    And maybe some of those don’t have to be mutually exclusive. People will come up with as many different strategies as there are personalities. And there will always those that tell us the right way to do it.

  24. joe

    I too am an atheist practicing lent- except I am doing orthodox lent. I’m 1.5 weeks in to a no meat, no dairy, no egg diet.

  25. solomon

    The sick ones are actually the Atheists but they fail to realize.They try to get all the answers from science.Science is also man made.How can they accept answers from within their ownself.The answers have to come from outside sources.It have to come from an independent source, a third party like God.If the answers come from within themself they can lie, manipulate and get confused.Their hearts is not 100% sure.Reasoned this out folks.

  26. solomon

    All you Atheist are not sure what you are into.Following your masters or scholars blindly without faith.Does’nt use your mind to wonder.When some truth appear you will quickly brush it off following your low desires or lusts.

  27. Solomon, you’re not any more sure what you are into than we are. You make statements, not arguments and we are just supposed to accept them?

    Please ask any of my Christian friends if they think I follow my low desires or lusts.

    You don’t know us, yet you judge us.

  28. solomon

    Mike aka,
    I’am not judging you on the personel level.I’am refering to most Atheist in general based on what God refers them as.Sorry if you feel offended.

  29. @ Solomon

    You are talking to real people here. Please don’t worry about offending us — Mike is a tough guy !
    But do worry about wrongly accusing and sloppy thinking. THAT is what this conversation is about. We try to be polite, of course, but ideas can offend. But this is the place for open ideas and discussion.

    For example, do you feel Mike & I (both not Christian) are going to Hell if we never except Jesus until we die?

  30. solomon

    Dear Sabio Lantz,

    Thanks for the advice.You or Mike’s fate is beyond my knowledge but if you keep believing there is no God & refuse to bow to him until you die, then it is fated that you or Mike will be the inhabitants of Hell.But you and mike will not be going to hell if you don’t accept Jesus as god or son of god because Jesus is definitely not.But you or Mike will be thrown to Hell if you did not accept Allah as God.

  31. Solomon, if God is real I want to believe in him, but I do not. How can I choose to believe in God?

  32. Solomon,

    as a Christian and a “person of the Book” i see the flaw in your thinking from a mile away. why? because i was guilty of it at one time as well. You have no knowledge of their fate yet confirm that they will be in hell IF. that’s knowing their fate, it’s a false-conditional.

    here’s another twist: what if they follow the will of God exactly save for praying 5 times a day and eating pork… what then? If they had no knowledge of nor read a lick of the Koran yet followed everything perfectly, God would toss them into hell because they didn’t recite some words?

  33. solomon

    Dear Luke,
    God won’t punish someone who is out of knowledge of his rules.But God will when knowledge have reached someone but they refuse to obey.
    Though I have no knowledge of ones faith, not believing and not following God’s rules is enough evidence for someone to booked a place in Hell.
    Another thing Luke I summon you to get back to the true God Allah almighty so that you will not be burned in Hell.Think Luke…how could God be of the same standard as men, that is posessing a mans image or having a son.This will put Gods standard to shame.The Bible have been manipulated from the true Torah,Injil or Zabur luke.

  34. solomon

    Dear Mike AKA,

    You have a soft heart and I believe God will show you the way someday.
    One one fine night raise your head to the skies Mike,look around and wonder,how could this universe with its intricate creation and its perfect system runs on its own.
    With low heart and soft words say it,talk to god.”If youre true show me the way”.God won’t leave his creatures who truly wants to seek truth.

  35. Thanks, Solomon. I do still ask God if he’s real, in any way, from time to time.

  36. solomon

    Youre most welcomed Mike.

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